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Published June 18, 2012, 11:27 PM

Hot Topic: Study: Birth control tied to heart attack and stroke, but risks very small

A sweeping new Danish study concludes that hormonal contraception increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, but the overall risk for individual women is very low.

By: Huffington Post, INFORUM

A sweeping new Danish study concludes that hormonal contraception increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, but the overall risk for individual women is very low.

“The amount of attention paid to these minuscule risks, and what are likely to be very small differences in vascular risk, detracts attention from more salient issues, like preventing unwanted pregnancy,” argued Dr. Diana B. Petitti, a professor of biomedical informatics at Arizona State University. Petitti wrote an editorial accompanying the findings, which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

Using national data on more than 1 million Danish women collected over a 15-year period, researchers examined whether various birth control formulations increased the risk of thrombotic stroke and heart attack. Thrombotic stroke occurs when a blood clot forms inside one of the brain’s arteries, stopping blood flow and killing brain cells. Most heart attacks occur when a blood clot blocks one of the coronary arteries.

The study found an increased risk of heart attack and stroke tied to various estrogen-progestin birth control pills. The risks were small overall and virtually non-existent with the progestin-only formulas. With the vaginal ring or the patch, the risks were slightly higher.

But experts who looked at the Danish findings were quick to caution that the risks for individual women remained very low.

“The risk might be as much as two times greater, but when you know that the rates (of arterial thrombosis) are 1 in 10,000, you’re just bringing it up to 2 to 4 in 10,000,” explained Dr. Kathy Hoeger, director of the University of Rochester’s Strong Fertility Center.

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